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French drivers urged to be more courteous to others

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Photo: Trap Gosh/Flickr
11:55 CET+01:00
The French are not exactly known for their civility towards other drivers, but can attitudes change?

There's perhaps a reason why France needs a grandly titled "International Courtesy at the Wheel Week", even if there's nothing international about it.

Foreign drivers have long bemoaned the incivility of French drivers, whether it's driving so close to the car in front it looks like they are being towed or jumping red lights to cause a snarl-up at a junction. (SEE COMIC VIDEO BELOW)

And the French themselves, or at least France's road safety group, the French Association of Preventing Bad Behaviour on the Road (AFPC), seem to agree.

That's why the association is holding its 16th edition of the “International Courtesy at the Wheel” week, which essentially is aimed at improving manners on the road to make driving in France less stressful and far less dangerous at a time when road deaths are rising.

The president Régis Chomel de Jarnieu said the aim of the week is to raise awareness among the French about the dangers of not being courteous on the roads.

'Courtesy, which isn't necessarily kindness, means behaving responsibly as an individual, which obviously helps improve safety on the roads,” said the president.

He blames the “catapult syndrome” which has taken hold in France, which he defines as “drivers being desperate to arrive even before they've set off".

Chomel de Jarnieu wants French drivers to leave behind their stress and adopt a mood of serenity when they get behind the wheel.

“The vast majority of road users want to be zen. Stress, pressure, danger, accidents, who wants all that? We need to change, each and every one of us, not just ‘the others'."

He pointed to a recent study that showed that 87 percent of drivers recognized that a courteous action by other drivers will encourage them too, to be more respectful to other drivers on the road.

“A simple gesture of courtesy or aggression can trigger a chain of events that will either create a pleasant climate to drive in, or make it more stressful and dangerous,” he said.

“We are all responsible.”

Last year, 3,464 people died in car accidents in France, a 2.4 percent jump from 2014. And according to AFPC, bad road manners play a big role in those statistics.

Earlier this year, The Local reported how new car stickers were available to senior citizen drivers in France, aimed at encouraging other drivers to be respectful.

The association is pleased that learner drivers will now be questioned about road courtesy in the obligatory driving theory test.

But Pierre Chasseray, the head of France's biggest motorists group, 40 Millions d'Automobilistes, believes French drivers don't need to be told to be more courteous more than any other nationality.

"I have seen the same kind of bad behaviour on the roads in the UK or in Italy," Chasseray told The Local. "It's always good to talk about positive behaviour when driving but a French motorist is no worse than an Italian one or a British, German or Spanish one."

Many expat drivers in France might be left spitting out their café au lait at that remark - as the article below suggests.

How French motorists drive expats mad

Story continues below…

Chasseray did accept however that the historic loathing French people have for rules and regulations may play a part in the way they drive.

"There is a spirit of revolution among French people. They never like rules and actively like to go against them," he said.

That would seem to include respecting red lights and no-parking signs.

The AFPC seems to agree and points to a survey that reveals how the French lament the ever-increasing restrictions on their individual liberties.

Some 68 percent of respondents to the survey pleaded for preventative measures to be introduced around driving, rather than repressive ones. But the fact that France is currently rolling out hundreds more speed cameras suggests the government has not heard their message.

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